Quantum technology might seem like the stuff of science fiction but the complicated research is set to change the life of Australians.
The Morrison Government will today announce $70 million over the next 10 years for a Quantum Commercialisation Hub.
In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Sydney Dialogue, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to announce investment in the hub, which will be designed to help commercialise Australia’s quantum research and forge links with global markets and supply chains.
“Quantum science and technology has the potential to revolutionise a whole range of industries, including finance, communications, energy, health, agriculture, manufacturing, transport, and mining,” Mr Morrison is expected to say.
The investment part of the government’s plan to protect and promote certain critical technologies in the country’s national interest.
For example, quantum technology is expected to be of use in the defence forces and for guarding against cyber attacks.
Quantum is one of 63 technologies on the Critical Technologies List that Australia will focus on developing as part of its Blueprint for Critical Technologies, which aims to protect and promote certain innovations in the country’s national interest.
“Most of our technology is — and will continue to be — imported,” the PM will say.
“In some cases – for critical technologies – we need to ensure we can access and use such technologies reliably and safely in good times and bad.”
The hub will be designed to attract private co-investment and to partner with equivalent bodies among “like-minded nations”.
“The first step is a joint cooperation agreement which the government has signed with the United States,” Mr Morrison will say.
In his speech Mr Morrison is expected to emphasise the importance of the new AUKUS trilateral security partnership between Australia, United States and the United Kingdom, and to say that it’s about more than nuclear submarines.
“This is a partnership based fundamentally on trust and shared interests,” he will say.
AUKUS will see the three countries “promote deeper information sharing; foster greater integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains; and strengthen our cooperation in advanced and critical technologies and capabilities”.
Mr Morrison will say Australia is also deepening its technology partnerships with India, Japan and the United States through the Quad grouping.
“Technology isn’t developed in a vacuum,” he is expected to explain.
“It reflects the values of the society that creates and uses it.
“For Australia’s part, we are guided by our values as a liberal democratic nation — based on respect for the rule of law, human rights, economic and religious freedom, gender equality, and independent institutions.
“We want technology to protect our citizens’ autonomy, privacy and data.”
What is quantum?
University of Technology quantum technology expert Professor Igor Aharonovich told news.com.au quantum was basically the science of explaining phenomena that could not be understood using traditional physics theories like gravity or electricity.
For example, scientists have found it is possible to teleport small atomic particles such as a single atom or an electron, and quantum mechanics can explain why.
While quantum sounds like far-fetched science fiction, it is set to change people’s lives.
In particular Prof Aharonovich believes one of the biggest impacts will be providing people with hacker-proof phone lines, which could also make financial transactions more secure.
At the moment people can talk via mobile phone using signals sent through towers and optical fibre connections. It is relatively easy to clone information passed through optical fibre so hackers can listen in.
While a quantum communication network would also use optical fibre, it only utilises single photons, creating a very secure channel.
“You cannot clone a single photon so any hacking attack can be instantly detected,” Prof Aharonovich said.
Another application is for the development of quantum sensors, which are very sensitive and make it possible to detect a single atom.
For example a quantum sensor can detect a single particle of iron in someone’s blood.
It can also use the magnetic field of the environment to provide mapping in areas where it’s not possible to use the Global Positioning System (GPS).
In Australia, Mr Morrison said the technology could improve the discovery of ore deposits and groundwater monitoring.
The mapping capabilities could also have major defence applications and the technology could also help protect Australia from cyber attacks.
Prof Aharonovich has welcomed news of the funding.
“It’s very exciting that Australia will be contributing resources to develop these technologies,” he said.
Taking quantum to the ‘next level’
Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley has been appointed to lead the development of the country’s first National Quantum Strategy, aimed at better integrating industry and government activities and building on the recommendations of CSIRO’s Quantum Technology Roadmap.
Dr Foley will also chair the National Committee on Quantum, which will bring together commercial, research and national security expertise.
“I’m confident the new strategy will help position Australia as a quantum technology leader in the Indo-Pacific,” Mr Morrison will say.
The PM will note that Australia already has some world-class research capabilities and is a global leader in several areas of quantum technology.
“Now we need to take it to the next level.”